Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday he has ordered his country’s military forces to stop airstrikes in militant-held neighborhoods with high civilian populations. Al-Abadi’s order came amid U.S. military airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in the region.
“I issued this order two days ago because we do not want to see more innocent victims falling in the places and provinces controlled by [the Islamic State],” al-Abadi said at a press conference in Baghdad, according to the Associated Press.
The prime minister asserted that the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has used civilians as human shields while combating the Iraqi military. He said the halt of the airstrikes did not signify an end to military action against the Islamic State. “We will continue to chase them, and we know that they are hiding behind the civilians,” he said.
Al-Abadi’s announcement could signify a bid by the prime minister’s Shiite-led government to secure support from Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority for more extensive action against militants in the region, Reuters said. The government’s ability to forge a workable coalition between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions is considered crucial to combating the growing threat posed by the Islamic State.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Middle East to gather regional support for an offensive against the Islamic State, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria. The al Qaeda offshoot seized vast swaths of land in a June offensive.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, attended al-Abadi’s press conference and expressed support for his vow to prevent civilian casualties: “Protection of civilians and ensuring their safety and security is a paramount priority for the United Nations.”